Monday 30 January 2012

Straight out of the Ark ....

Deighton's cover for Ark 10
The last post on Deighton's cover art elicited not only some helpful emails but also a note from blog reader Caspar referencing the fantastic early illustrations Len produced for Ark magazine and expressing a desire to see someone dig them out and post them up. Well, never let it be said the Deighton Dossier doesn't listen to its readers!

Ark was - is - the in-house magazine for the Royal College of Art, produced by students as both a proving ground and showcase for the burgeoning British talents emerging in illustration, graphic design and production. Not only Deighton but contemporaries like friend and future cover designer Ray Hawkey, photographer Gordon Moore and designer Alan Fletcher were among the many students whose talents first became evident in Ark.

This explosion of British design talent - in contrast to the rather dull, everyday life of the fifties, a decade very much waiting for the sixties to arrive - is captured brilliantly in a book called Burning the Box of Beautiful Things by Alex Seago, which charts the "heady times" of the fifties and sixties in the UK's design scene as the postmodern moved from fringe to mainstream and conventional ideas about art and illustration were challenged the neo-Romantic, neo-Victorian sensibilities of the art establishment which students like David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield and Allen Jones railed against.

Ark was a very public manifestation of this new movement, in which the latest techniques were used and existing conventions challenged. Ark was also a siphon, drawing across the Atlantic the latest design and graphical trends from America like 'jazz modernism' and 'streamlining'. Len Deighton was an enthusiastic contributor and editor. Seago describes Deighton's article on Soho - titled 'Down Past Compton on Frith, Food Makes Wonderful Music' - as "the most skilfully written article every to appear in Ark". Here's an extract from the feature 'Abroad in London' in Ark No 10 from 1954, which is a fantastic evocation of the Soho of the mid-fifties, then becoming the centre of everything hip and trendy in the capital, with jazz clubs and the ever present seediness of the demimonde not far away. Here's an excerpt:
"Gashed across the face of London's West End, Old Compton Street, the High Street of London's largest foreign section, is constantly busy with the hustle of day, evening and night. Dribbling across newly swept pavements, ice blocks rest outside restaurant and shops by 8.30am. A rambling monster lumbers slowly along clanging its sanitary progress - the Westminster Council dustcart is one of the few English intrusions. A thousand empty bottles - dusty and vintage laden the previous evening - join garbage and broken furniture in a jostling to the incinerator .... Chairs are swept under as lunch menus are written."
You could almost be there, sitting outside Bar Italia in Frith Street enjoying an exotic new 'cappuccino' coffee as you watched the world go by! The prose is accompanied by some wonderfully evocative illustrations by Deighton which capture the vibrancy and early growing pains of 'swinging' Soho - a London which Deighton drew on for his early steps writing fiction. (click on each photo to see in more detail).

The second set of illustrations is also from Ark, edition 13 from 1955, and follow a similar format, only this time Deighton is stretching his journalistic and artistic muscles by penning a portrait New York's metropolis, where Deighton worked for a while in advertising and in restaurants. 'A bowler hat on Broadway' is Deighton's own taken on an Englishman in New York, and captures an America of jazz bars, ice cream floats, donuts and neon.

1 comment:

  1. Hope I'm not too late to thank you for posting Abroad in London. Wonderful stuff. The New York stuff is a real treat too, and completely new to me.